Ian Pretty


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Time for more visibility from LGBT leaders in the Further Education Sector

The 2019 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which is the definitive benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace, was recently published. Of the Top 100 most LGBT-friendly employers in the UK, only two FE colleges featured this year, up one from last year in an index which includes 16 employers in education. Further examination shows that only three FE colleges have been featured in the Top 100 in the last 10 years.

Some colleges are clearly doing great work around diversity and inclusivity. Collab Group member, Newham College, for example appeared on 2019 Stonewall Workplace Index at number 56. In July 2018, the college established an LGBT+ Committee to support staff and students and has campaigned prominently in support of LGBT opportunities and representation. But is the sector really doing enough? Is running a rainbow flag up a flagpole a couple of times year evidence of a sector that embraces and understands LGBT people? I recently attended a Parliamentary roundtable event hosted by World Skills UK and Pink News as part of LGBT History month. The debate was constructive, but I came away with the sense that the FE sector – a key part of the wider education sector - could be doing more to be inclusive welcoming places for both LGBT students and staff.

As a gay man, and still relatively new to FE (4 years in), it has struck me how few visible LGBT role models and leaders there are in a sector where most students are either millennials or Generation Z. 13% of the British population identifies as LGBT but when looking closely at data on millennials and Generation Z, it is even more interesting. An IPOS Mori poll from July 2018 found that 66% of Generation Z identified themselves as exclusively straight and among millennials it was 71%. The same survey found that 60% of 15 to 16-year olds think that sexuality can be represented by a scale rather than being binary. Despite this, nearly half of LGBT school students suffer from bullying, 35% of LGBT people are still in the closet at work, and one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation.

Life for LGBT students and staff on colleges has changed thanks to changes in society, but LGBT people still face obstacles to full inclusion. Colleges need to do more and embrace a range of practices to make their spaces more LGBT-friendly for their students and staff. These could include conducting an audit of gender inclusion in policies, mapping to asses policy obstacles to inclusion, and pursuing informational and awareness-raising campaigns about sexuality. Many colleges are already doing this, but we should be doing more. The aim must be to create an inclusive community that normalises LGBT visibility and makes colleges the “go to” place to LGBT people to study. Of course, greater visibility in the Stonewall Index would also be nice.

So, it is time to have more visible LGBT people in the sector to demonstrate that colleges are places that are welcoming and inclusive places for LGBT people and especially for students.

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